“Oh, a storm is threat’ning my very life today
If I don’t get some shelter oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away…”
I’m quarantined, listening to a 2011 recording of “Gimme Shelter” produced by Playing for Change, which seeks to “connect the world through music.” It’s a sublime recording, uniting musicians in places like Jamaica, Senegal, New York, Tokyo, Italy… many places where the coronavirus now “burns like a red coal carpet.”
Today, the recording’s giving me goosebumps: “War, children, it’s just a shot away… Love, sister, it’s just a kiss away.”
I lived through AIDS in San Francisco. Epidemics bring out the best and worst in human nature. Yes, panicked folks have hoarded all the toilet paper in the Roaring Fork Valley, but five people here in Carbondale have contacted me, wholly unbidden, to offer their help while I’m sheltering in place.
I’ve been shut in since March 8, when the virus turned up in Vail. That prompted me to start reading — and to learn that COVID-19 would likely hand me to the grim reaper pretty quickly. Given my medical fragility, posts like this one from Trinity Stebleton, an online friend from Silt, have moved me nearly to tears:
“As more research has come to light, it has become more clear that this pandemic is different. It spreads easily, its symptoms become severe quickly, and it can make a person deteriorate rapidly. Not just any person though. People over 60, and those who are immuno-compromised. Some of my favorite people on the planet fall into one, or both, of those categories… We need to do all we can to protect ourselves, for the sake of others who wouldn’t fare as well. A world without grandparents doesn’t sound like a world too many of us want to live in…”
Though I’m glad I’m not amid the storm raging in Seoul or New York, I’m also keenly aware that “there is no away.” I suspect international tourists dropped coronavirus into the petri dish we call “Aspen” around Christmas. (Carbondale, where I live, is just about half-hour from Aspen.) I think a local friend here had it, long before the quarantined Aussie, and, after a helluva six-week battle, she recovered. The Colorado Sun reported on a healthcare worker who brought the virus home to Crested Butte — without knowing what she had.
Governor Polis is right. This is going to be a “test of our Colorado character,” one that’s toughest in our mountain towns. Danielle Macchini, a doctor in Bergamo, a mountain town in Italy, posted about a hospital where “the war has exploded and battles are uninterrupted, day and night…” Where there are “no more surgeons, urologists, orthopedists – only doctors who have become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us”… Where “the ER is collapsing.” Where exhausted doctors have to triage, refusing scarce respirators to those over 60…who don’t have many years left anyway.
It wouldn’t take many cases to overwhelm Valley View, in Glenwood Springs, and Aspen Valley hospital in Aspen. Nor to deplete the medical workers on whom local lives depend. That’s why we need to “flatten the curve” of medical demand by slowing the virus through social distancing.
Beyond that, I think we humans, as a species, could use a big time out.
Speaking at a recent international design conference, Dutch trends forecaster Li Edelkoort opined that the current slowdown in travel and manufacturing is both “terrible and wonderful” because “we need to change our behavior to save the environment. It’s almost as if the virus is an amazing grace for the planet.”
It’s a message poet Walt Whitman gave us in 1907:
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
What if we used this time-out to reflect on our hearts, on our interconnectedness?
Last week, Lynn Unger, a poet I know, wrote a poem called “Pandemic”. Like Whitman, she urged us to stop buying and selling, to stop traveling. She asked what would happen if we viewed this hiatus “as the Jews consider the Sabbath—the most sacred of times?” She writes:
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)”
Center down. That’s what I’m trying to do.
I’m trying to find love – agape – in the time of coronavirus. As Lynn urged, I’m reaching out with my heart and words, not my hands. And to the community of so many loved ones, I’m promising my love “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.”
Nicolette Toussaint is a writer living in Carbondale. This piece was adapted from a column that first appeared in the Sopris Sun.